Since making my lifelong desire to write known within my immediate professional and social circle, I have come face to face with the quizzical expressions and misconceptions I encountered as a child who lived primarily in an imaginary world. While undoubtedly supportive and well-meaning, many friends are simply unable to conceal their lack of understanding for a “hobby” that requires solitude and a “sacrifice” of social interaction. They applaud my weekend efforts at my computer (the abstruse Bakhtinian analyses of The Picture of Dorian Gray, the works of Virginia Woolf, and Gertrude Stein’s Ida notwithstanding), acknowledging the virtue of, say, an MFA thesis or a novel chapter, but can’t resist urging me to “not forget to make time for myself and have fun now and then.”
Don’t they see I’m having the time of my life?
I suppose I can appreciate their puzzlement. In today’s hypersocial society, activities done alone are generally considered to be inferior to activities shared with others. For every customarily unaccompanied occupation, a club or Meetup group is now available to take the ostensible sting of isolation out of it. To opt deliberately for tedious exertions done in seclusion, such as reading novels and writing, in lieu of more interactive and invigorating pastimes often prompts questions of physical or mental well-being or, more awkwardly, elicits unwarranted sympathy. Besides, creative writing is purportedly an enterprise of the right cerebral hemisphere, and I have a left brain job. Or so I thought.
Over time, as my colleagues began to learn what I was doing when I wasn’t analyzing financial statements and operating the real estate, a few divulged (with, I’m certain I detected, a measure of wistfulness) that they, too, had dabbled in the literary or visual arts in a prior life, revealing an unobtrusive community of hemispheric fissure straddlers – former and would-be authors, poets, painters, and other creative thinkers making their mark in a distinctly analytic arena. Most of us probably still have the proof of a dormant poetic self – musty journals in boxes in the garage, old files of yellowed paper scraps and cocktail napkins on which bits of prose and poetry are scrawled, or references to particularly resonant passages in the margins of Great Expectations and Wuthering Heights.
Upon learning the secret identities of the accountant-sculptor, lawyer-philosopher, and engineer-memoirist, I was exhilarated by the proximity of this dichotomous kindred. There was neither bemusement nor pity from these individuals; they understood the need to retreat to a quiet space to create, alone. As we talked, I saw a light flicker in their eyes, a memory, perhaps, of what used to stir their soul before the freneticism of modern life anesthetized its Ache, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they had returned home that night and started digging for the evidence of their own writer within. At least, I imagine they did. And if after reading this you go digging, too, write and let me know.
This column was first published in the Orange County Register.